Jesus, Judas, and Leaven in 1 Cor 5:6-13

Posted by R. Fowler White

While reading L. Michael Morales’s terrific new book, Exodus Old and New: A Biblical Theology of Redemption (IVP, 2020), a few thoughts came to mind in reaction to his discussion of the feasts of Passover and Unleavened Bread in Exod 12 and of Paul’s linking of our Passover celebration with “leaven removal” by church discipline in 1 Cor 5:6-13. Specifically, I wondered if we could see in the NT how Jesus complied with the feast regulations given by Moses in Exod 12. In this light, I turned to the accounts of the celebrations of those feasts in the book of Exodus and in the Gospels and then back to 1 Cor 5.

Looking through the regulations for observing those feasts in Exod 12, the Passover feast and the Unleavened Bread feast were scheduled back to back, and they were usually regarded as one. To keep the Passover observance, the people of the OT church were called to remove all traces of leaven from their houses. Then, to keep the Unleavened Bread ordinance, they would eat only unleavened bread. Underlining the gravity of these ordinances, the OT church was also to remove from their midst those who did not remove leavened bread from their houses (12:15, 19). In the latter feast in particular, God signified the new life with Him that His people should live after their exodus from Egypt. As Ryken puts it, “In spiritual terms, the last thing He wanted them to do was to take a lump of dough from Egypt that would eventually fill them with the leaven of idolatry. … God wanted to do something more than get His people out of Egypt; He wanted to get Egypt out of His people.” Thus, they were not just to eat unleavened bread; they were to be an unleavened people.

Understandably, in the Apostle’s eyes, these conjoined feasts prefigured the church’s life: the Christian Passover (1 Cor 5:7) and its recurring celebrations (1 Cor 11:26) were to be matched by ongoing celebration of the new Unleavened Bread feast (1 Cor 5:7-8). In other words, in addition to dining at the Lord’s Table, the NT congregation was to be an unleavened people living an unleavened life of purity and integrity. And, significantly, for the NT church to keep the feasts faithfully, Paul points out that their duty is what the OT church’s duty was: as an unleavened people (5:7), they were to clean out the leaven from their midst (5:7), including those who neglected that duty in their own lives (5:11-13).

Formative as the OT was for the NT church’s life, it stands to reason that Jesus’ own (final) celebration of the Passover/Unleavened Bread feasts was an example for His church. From the Gospel accounts, we’re justified in concluding that the Evangelists wished to document not only the institution of the Lord’s Supper but also how Jesus complied with the feast regulations given by Moses. We’re told, for instance, that as Jesus was preparing for His own exodus (Luke 9:31) to go back to His Father (John 13:1, 3), He had sent Peter and John to prepare the feasts to be celebrated (Matt 26:17-19; Mark 14:12-16; Luke 22:7-13). Since we’re told nothing to the contrary, we rightly suppose that the meal and the house with the Upper Room were both prepared as required. In fact, two Evangelists say that they found the room furnished and ready (Mark 14:15; Luke 22:12), and doubtless readiness would include the removal of all leaven and leavened bread. Yet, as Exod 12:15, 19 had alerted us, cleaning out the leaven for the feast would not and could not stop there.

Strikingly, as Jesus cleans the Twelve’s feet, He effectively fences the Table, announcing that one of them is unclean (John 13:6-11; cf. John 18:28). The identity of Judas the betrayer was hidden from all but Jesus. When Jesus disclosed the betrayer’s presence at the Table, none of them so much as looked at Judas, much less said, “Lord, is it Judas?” Like his father the devil, he was a deceiver and an accomplice to murder. Knowing His betrayer’s identity, however, Jesus has to comply with God’s requirements and clean out the leaven of hypocrisy, theft, and greed (Mark 8:15; John 12:4-5) from the house. Having exposed him as unfit for the feast, Jesus tells Judas to leave, and in a tragically ironic replay of the first Passover, he goes out quickly, even immediately (John 13:27, 30; cf. Exod 12:11, 33) into the night (John 13:30; cf. Exod 12:12, 31, 42). Exiting as he does, Judas self-identifies as one who walks by night and stumbles because the light is not in him (John 11:10); he is a child “of the night [and] darkness” (1 Thess 5:5). Be that as it may, what Jesus did at His own final feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread was what His Apostle instructs the church to do in 1 Cor 5:6-13. Having removed the leaven of Judas from the fellowship of His Table, Jesus had acted so as not to associate with any so-called brother if he is a sexually immoral person, or a greedy person, or an idolater, or is verbally abusive, or habitually drunk, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a person. Even on the night in which He was betrayed, Jesus acted so that those who ate at His Table would not just eat unleavened bread, but be an unleavened people.

What Reformation Looked Like in the OT Church: Change for the Good

Posted by R. Fowler White

Overall, the evidence and fruit of reformation in the OT church after the exile was change, change for the good. Change in direction from self and sin to God and His will as revealed in Scripture. Change in attitudes and affections, priorities and choices. Decreasing likeness to the world and increasing likeness to God. To as many of us as enter into solemn covenant with God and His church, we give testimony that He has begun a work of change in us and our household. So, as we read the story of Nehemiah, we examine ourselves and ask, do we, as members of God’s church, see the continuing fruit of reformation in ourselves, in our households, and in our congregations? When was the last time I noticed increasing holiness in my thoughts, words, or deeds? In Neh 12:44–13:3, reformation produced three observable changes in God’s people.

In Nehemiah’s day the people were joyfully supporting the temple ministers in their work (12:44, 47). They were joyfully fulfilling the vows they had taken (Nehemiah 10). They were giving contributions of the fruit of every tree, the wine, and the oil to the priests. They were giving their firstfruits and firstborn, year by year, to the house of the LORD. They were giving tithes in keeping with their vow that they would not neglect the house of their God. All these gifts were owed and given as required by God’s revealed will in His law. The people had vowed to support the OT church in its worship and work, and so they gave their tithes and offerings in keeping with their vow.

In Nehemiah’s day the temple ministers were faithfully performing their work (12:45-46). The priests, Levites, storeroom stewards, singers, and instrumentalists were all faithfully performing the service of their God and the ministry of purification. They were doing their work in keeping with God’s commands as implemented by King David and King Solomon. Why look back to the reigns of David and Solomon? Because they were largely the glory days of Israel: David had organized Israel’s worship; Solomon had built the temple. Their worship was driven and their faithfulness was defined by God’s word, not by the preferences of the postexilic generation or even previous generations. The postexilic temple ministers, then, organized and administered worship according God’s command as exemplified in David and Solomon.

In Nehemiah’s day the people promptly applied God’s standard for admission and exclusion to the visible church (13:1-3). Let’s bear in mind this OT “ministry of the keys” was a necessity not based merely on ethnic terms, but on covenantal, moral, and spiritual terms. According to Moses, God had sworn to bless those who, in faith, blessed Abraham and his seed and to curse those who, in unbelief, cursed Abraham and his seed. So, certain Gentiles, like Rahab, Ruth, and Naomi, had been admitted with their households because they confessed saving faith as Abraham did. On the other hand, certain Israelites, even some generations of Israel, had proven to be spiritually and morally Gentiles and had been broken off from the patriarchal tree for their unbelief. The standard for admission and exclusion was response to God’s oath to Abraham and his seed. In that light, the people were reading what was written about that standard and were promptly obeying it.

When reformation came to the OT church after the exile, it produced change in God’s people. Cheerful givers fulfilled their vow to support the church’s worship and work. Are you and I cheerful givers fulfilling our vow to support the church’s worship and work? God’s ministers faithfully administered temple worship and work according to His word. What is it that drives our worship choices and defines our faithfulness: what God wants or what we want? The people promptly applied God’s standard for admission and exclusion to the visible church. Do we acknowledge that Christ has established officers in His church to grant or refuse fellowship as His word requires? In Nehemiah’s day the evidence and fruit of reformation in the OT church produced change for the good in God’s people. May it be so in our day too.

What Reformation Looked Like in the OT Church: Family Heads and Officers

Posted by R. Fowler White

Since we’ve just completed our 2020 remembrance of Reformation Day, it’s timely to reflect on what reformation looked like when it came to the OT church in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s day. Having looked at reformation’s effect on the people as a whole in Nehemiah 8, we should also consider its effect on family heads and church officers. Here we’re focused on those who were husbands and fathers, chief stewards of households (including stewards of God’s church), required to be holy as He is holy and to expend themselves for the good of those in their charge and care. So, when reformation came to the OT church, what was the evidence and fruit of its impact on family heads and officers?

Look first at two observations about family heads. The text tells us that they took the initiative to seek out the teaching ministry available to them. According to 8:13, these chief stewards came together to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. Public worship in congregation had reemerged as a non-negotiable (8:1-12). Yet public worship was only the beginning of their stewardship of their families’ discipleship. We’re told here that these family heads sought opportunities to be taught in addition to public gatherings for worship. The family heads were also obedient to what they were taught. As narrated in 8:14-18, they did what they had found written in the Law that the LORD had commanded. Note that, when they were directed to celebrate the Festival of Booths, they went out and built those booths and lived in them, each on their roofs and in their courts (8:16). We underestimate the significance of this activity unless we recognize that these family heads took the knowledge of Scripture that they had gained and spread it throughout the families in their clans. We may even say that Neh 8:14-18 is a picture of Deut 6:6-8 being lived out as a key means to and fruit of reformation among them: whether sitting, walking, lying down, or getting up, families rehearsed among themselves what God required of them.[i]

Consider also what church officers did when reformation came to the OT church. We remind ourselves that the priests and the Levites, along with Ezra and Nehemiah, were models of what the people should become, namely, a holy nation of priests. So, what happened among OT church officers when reformation took place? In general, the officers applied their abilities to the congregation’s need for teaching. We read how Ezra, Nehemiah, and the 13 Levites who stood on the podium with Ezra helped the people to understand the Law. In addition, those officers kept watch over the congregation’s response to the teaching ministry. Notice two details in Nehemiah 8. First, the officers discipled the congregation to do what God required. In 8:9, we read of how Nehemiah … and Ezra … and the Levites [spoke] to all the people. In 8:13, we’re told that the priests and the Levites were with the family heads, and together they all came to Ezra the scribe in order to study the words of the Law. In other words, the officers came alongside the family heads for Bible study. Second, the officers consoled the people in their repentance. When reformation came to the people, they trembled at God’s warnings, suffered deep sorrow for their sins, and determined to turn away from their sins—and the officers knew all this. Seeing the people’s repentance, the officers spoke “words of assurance of pardon” to them (8:10-11): Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. And so the Levites calmed all the people (8:11). They reminded the people of the truth expressed in Neh 9:17, You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

When reformation came to the OT church, family heads took the lead to seek out teaching, and they were obedient to what they were taught. Church officers applied their abilities to the congregation’s need for teaching, discipling them to do what God required and keeping watch over their response to that teaching. In this light, we have to ask ourselves, has reformation come to our congregations? We who have entered publicly into solemn covenant with God and His church have testified that God has begun a good work of reformation in us. As we read the story of Nehemiah and Ezra, we’re again constrained to ask if we, as officers, family heads, and members of God’s church, see evidence and fruit of His reforming work in us and among us. In the days of Nehemiah and Ezra, the OT church saw that evidence and fruit. Do we?

[i][i] D. Kidner, Ezra and Nehemiah (Tyndale OT Commentaries, 1979), 108.

What Reformation Looked Like in the OT Church: The People as a Whole

Posted by R. Fowler White

When reformation comes to the congregations of God’s church, what does that reformation look like? To put it differently, when God renews and revives His church, what does that renewal and revival look like? Would we recognize it if it happened in our congregations? Would you recognize it if it happened in your family? In you personally? Historically, we think of the Reformation in the 16th century. We think of an extraordinary sovereign work of God through His King according to His Word to His own glory, manifested in increased holiness and decreased worldliness in thought, word, and deed among God’s church and usually in increased civic righteousness (restraint of evil) among non-Christians through increased fear of God in their hearts. So, what will reformation look like if and when God brings it to us today? As a framework for answering that question, let’s consider what reformation looked like when it came to the OT church in Nehemiah’s and Ezra’s day. We can analyze what happened from various valid angles, so consider first what the people as a whole did when reformation came to the OT church.

They took the initiative to learn God’s will as revealed in Scripture. Strikingly, we are not told that Ezra summoned the people. Instead we’re told (8:1) that on the 1st day of the 7th month, all the people (almost 50,000) gathered as one man. We’re told (8:4) that the people made the wood platform from which Ezra read Scripture, the Book of the Law of Moses. We’re told (8:13) that on the 2nd day of the 7th month, the family heads came together to Ezra. The people took the initiative. And then what? They submitted themselves to be discipled under their leaders. The people told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book (8:1). The people remained in their places as the Levites helped them to understand (8:7), and the family heads came together to Ezra to study and to find out what God required of them (8:13-14).

Having taken this initiative, the congregation’s discipleship produced certain fruit. They were united. Notice how many times throughout this passage we’re told that “all the people” or words to that effect did this or that. No fewer than 10 times, the solidarity of the people is highlighted (8:1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17). They were also zealous, eager, passionate, hungry, thirsty for God and His will as revealed in Scripture (8:2, 3, 7, 12, 13, 16). They were worshipful too (8:6, 17-18). We read more about this in Neh 9, where the people confess their own sins and also the iniquities of their fathers. But notice in Neh 8 that they wept over their sins as they heard the words of the Law read and taught (8:9). The people were so exercised by the conviction of their sins that the leaders, especially the Levites, had to calm all the people down (8:10, 11). Having turned from their sins, the people also celebrated their God (8:6). They were instructed to celebrate, and they did it (8:10, 12). And how did they celebrate? Just as God had prescribed: they kept the Festival of Booths, the Festival of Ingathering, signifying their identity as pilgrims living in temporary housing with God their Provider but anticipating their permanent home with Him in the Garden Land (8:13-17). Representing faithful pilgrims from all nations, this Festival testified to the congregation of God’s presence with them on the way to the beauty and bounty of a restored Eden, and they rejoiced in God and delighted in His presence, and they rejoiced in God and delighted in His presence.

When reformation came to the OT church, the congregation took the initiative to learn God’s will as revealed in Scripture; they submitted to discipleship under their leaders’ stewardship; they were united, zealous, and worshipful disciples of their Lord; they wept over their sins; they celebrated their God. Having just celebrated another Reformation Day, let’s ask: are we seeing congregations taking the initiative to learn God’s will as revealed in Scripture? Have we and our fellow members submitted ourselves to be discipled under the stewardship of our leaders? Are we united, zealous, and worshipful as Christ’s disciples? Do we weep over our sins? Do we worship our God as He prescribes? This is what reformation looked like in the OT church when God brought it to the congregation as a whole. Next, God willing, we’ll consider what family heads and officers did.

Christ the Holy Son: Better Than Moses and the Levites (Heb 3–10)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Having put before us the contrasts between Jesus the Son and the prophets in Heb 1:1-3 and the angels in Heb 1:4-14 and 2:5-18, the writer of Hebrews continues to increase our esteem for Christ by turning in chs. 3–10 to the contrast between the Son and Moses and the Levitical priests. Beginning in 3:1-6, we’re told that Jesus is the faithful Son over God’s house and the builder thereof; Moses is a faithful servant in God’s house. To understand better the different roles of Jesus and Moses relative to God’s house, it helps us to consider the house’s two forms. One of those forms appeared in Exod 20–23, where God required “the house of Jacob” (Exod 19:3) to be holy as He is holy (Exod 19:6; Lev 19:2) so as to become His holy nation of priests (Exod 19:4-6). A second form of God’s house came into view in Exod 25–31 and 35–40, where the earthly tabernacle was built after the pattern of God’s holy residence in heaven (Exod 25:40; Heb 8:5) according to His word and by His Spirit. In fact, the tabernacle stood as a shadow and type of what the house of Israel was required to be, namely the living and holy house built when God’s Spirit effectually applied His word to His people. Noticeably, what these two forms of God’s house have in common is the holiness required of them, and to understand how they were sanctified is to gain an even more reverent esteem for Christ. So let’s look further at how God’s house was sanctified.

As summarized in 9:11-28, the sanctification of God’s house in its two forms was accomplished through the priesthoods of Moses and the Levites and of Christ. Under God’s servants Moses and the Levites, God’s house was sanctified when Moses inaugurated the first covenant, cleansing the earthly tabernacle and the worshipers with the blood of calves and goats for his own sins and for those of the worshipers. Once inaugurated by Moses, the Levitical priests kept the tabernacle and the worshipers cleansed by continually offering sacrifices for their own sins and for those of the people. Similarly, under God’s Son Jesus, God’s house was sanctified when He inaugurated the second covenant, cleansing the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers with His own blood, not for His own sins but solely for those of the worshipers. The sacrifice by which Christ established the holiness of the heavenly tabernacle and the worshipers is the same sacrifice by which He maintains that holiness. He offered His sacrifice for sins once for all time (10:10, 12), forever perfecting those worshipers He sanctified (10:14) and now always ministering for them in heaven (7:25; 12:22, 24). As Hebrews presents them, then, both priesthoods followed the same liturgy necessary to sanctify God’s house in both its forms. Even so, the two priesthoods were markedly different when it came to fulfilling God’s command to emulate His holiness.

Disabled by sin and death (5:1-3; 7:23, 28; 9:7; 10:11), the Levites were not and could not be holy as God is holy. Nor could they make anyone else holy and perfect (7:18-19): their ceaseless sacrifices could neither take away sins nor cleanse the inner man (9:9-10, 13; 10:1-4). Granted these realities, however, the Levites and the worshipers they represented could and should have learned of the good things to come (3:5; 10:1). Though many continued to boast in the Levites, the remnant who shared Abraham’s faith knew of those good things. Through God’s promises, prophecies, ordinances, shadows, and types, they, like Isaiah, looked heavenward to the priest better than any son of Levi and found in Him the blessings of His sanctifying (cleansing) work (Isa 6:7). They, like Moses and David, also looked forward to the priest from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:8-12) and the order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:18-20; Ps 110:4). According to Hebrews, Jesus, the eternal Son incarnate, became that priest. Having through the eternal Spirit (Heb 9:14) demonstrated in His life and in His death the holiness that God required, Jesus proved to be holy even as God is holy (4:15; 5:7; 7:26; 9:14; cf. 2 Cor 5:21). Sinless and immortal, He is powerful to sanctify the people He represents, cleansing their hearts and transforming them into a living tabernacle-house (e.g., Deut 6:6; Ps 37:31; 40:8; 119:11; Isa 51:7), a holy nation of priests on whose hearts God’s law is written (e.g., Mal 3:1-4). He is, in a phrase, both sanctified and the sanctifier of all who believe (Heb 2:11; 13:12), as Abraham, Moses, David, and Isaiah did.

The message of Hebrews is clear: though pressures from our opponents may tempt us to deemphasize or conceal, or even reject and deny, the distinctives of our historic Christian faith, let us hold unwaveringly to the hope that we confess (10:23), since in Jesus the Son, the Holy One, we have so great a priest over the house of God (10:21).

Aimee Byrd’s Book, Chapter 1

Byrd’s book is divided into three main parts. The first main part is called “Recovering the Way We Read Scripture.” This part deals primarily with hermeneutical issues. As someone who claims the Reformed tradition as her own, it is a question why she should feel the need to recover the way we read Scripture. Does she believe that we have lost something earlier generations had? It is not entirely clear what she means by this, but we will simply note this and move on.

Chapter 1 is entitled “Why Men and Women Don’t Read Separate Bibles.” I agree with much of what is in this chapter, starting with her rejection of the idea that men and women need separate Bibles. Her scathing denunciation of reading the Bible “in pink and blue” culminates in this zinger: “If the aesthetics are good, then our sanctification must be on point” (33). Against many feminist scholars, she rejects the idea that the Bible is patriarchal (42). There are many important female voices in the Bible, some of which she points out (Huldah in this chapter, Ruth in the next), and others exist like Hannah and Mary. Whether all the conclusions she draws from them are justified is another question. At the moment, however, I am listing the areas of agreement. Also, and I agree with her, she laments the poor state of theological education for women. The “Bible” studies that are on offer for women are generally hideous. Maybe publishers think that women can’t handle theology. But why would any great theologian of all church history be inaccessible or irrelevant to women? Byrd elsewhere acknowledges her debt to the great theologians, and that they continue to inform her.

There are several points that need to be examined closely for their implications. Not all of these implications have been mentioned before. First, she says that “the books written before the establishment of Christian trade publishers had an androcentric, or male-centered, perspective” (34). She immediately qualifies this statement by suggesting that this does not mean an inherently wrong perspective, but rather an incomplete perspective. This raises a question in my mind, one which I am not sure Byrd ever answers. Firstly, what does she mean by “androcentric” in this context? Does Byrd see linguistic markers like generic “he” as evidence of androcentrism? Does she see something like covenantal headship, via Ephesians 5, as androcentric? Her words here appear to be a critique, but then she pulls her punch a bit.

Next, the historical situation of Anne Hutchinson is fraught with complications. On Byrd’s reading, she was not taken seriously by her pastors/elders (36). Byrd seems to believe that if the church had invested time and energy into teaching her, the story might have been different. That is possible. However, she was given a rather good education back in England (including religious education), being taught by her learned father, Francis Marbury. It is not clear in the record how much of her theology was already in place before she came over to the colonies. Byrd seems to be claiming that the supposed neglect of Hutchinson was the main contributing factor to her later problems. It is possible that such neglect could be a contributing factor. But Byrd seems to be hinting that no blame for the situation accrues to Hutchinson herself. Any pastor, however, would be disturbed by a group meeting in someone’s house for the express purpose of critiquing the pastor’s sermon. That has “clique” written all over it! Byrd might reply by saying that Hutchinson had no other options available to her. I find that difficult to believe. She didn’t have to form a group. She could discuss the sermon informally with other people. If she had any differences with the pastor, she had a responsibility to bring those to the pastor, and him only, not spread discord by critiquing him behind his back. That is on her.

The most disturbing part of the chapter is the section entitled “Revealing a Woman’s Work” (45-6). If her conclusions are correct, and women formed part of the authenticating of Scripture, then there can be no theological objection to female ministers. If they have the greater, they can have the lesser. She describes Huldah as “authenticating the Word of God largely accepted as the heart of the book of Deuteronomy” (46, referencing Christa McKirkland). She quotes with obvious agreement McKirkland’s claim that Huldah might have been “The first person to authenticate the written Word.” Authenticating the Word of God is not how the Bible describes what she did. All the text says is that she passed on the word of the Lord that came to her, which included this statement from the Lord: “all the words of the book that the king of Judah has read.” It is not at all clear that Josiah wanted it confirmed as to whether the book that was found was the Word of God. His words in 2 Kings 22:13 refer rather to his fear that the things written in the book would come true. Huldah confirms that they would, but with qualifications mentioned in 19-20. Huldah was a true prophetess. There doesn’t seem to be any reason to doubt this, nor for Deborah, whose words came true. Some opponents of feminism have tried to argue that the consulting of Deborah and Huldah indicate the failure of male leadership. At least in Huldah’s case, this is not so, since Jeremiah started his prophecies about five years before the consultation with Huldah (thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah, putting the beginning of his prophecy around 626 B.C., and the consultation of Huldah about 621 B.C.). The objection could work with Deborah’s case, but not with Huldah. Most scholars I consulted on this passage addressed the question of why Josiah did not consult with Jeremiah by answering that Jeremiah was probably in Anathoth, whereas Huldah was right there in Jerusalem. In any case, there is no indication that Huldah authenticated God’s Word (who does that anyway? The Reformers always said we receive God’s Word, not authenticate it. God’s Word is self-authenticating). In addition, Josiah’s response to the word even before the consultation indicates that he believed it was already authoritative. What he did in consulting Huldah was to ask how the curses would work out (a point I owe to Fowler). Huldah’s gifts of prophecy are certainly genuine but she does not appear in Scripture as one who had the same public ministry of speaking and writing that her contemporaries Jeremiah or Zephaniah had. Rather, she appears as one who delivered oracles in a private consultation with five members of the royal court. Our conclusions about the exact nature of her ministry or that of other men or women have to depend on other passages and considerations. For more, see Thomas Schreiner’s essay in RBMW. I would need to do more research to see what I thought about this claim, though it seems to have at least some initial plausibility.

Are We All Cainites Now?

Posted by R. Fowler White

Isn’t there an increasing likeness between our culture and the culture of Cain and his descendants? Sure seems so in some key ways. Consider that question in the light of Gen 4:16-24.

Like Cain and his descendants, we claim to be “people of faith,” but we don’t live coram Deo. Notice Gen 4:17-18. Cain and his wife were fulfilling God’s command to fill the earth, but notice the names that they gave to their sons: several had a short-hand version of God’s name (“El”) embedded in them. What are we to make of those names? Arguably, in them, the Cainites displayed a form of godliness, but they didn’t live their lives coram Deo, that is, in God’s presence, under God’s authority, to God’s glory. In that sense, they took God’s name to themselves in vain. What happened then appears to be happening today. Like Cainites, some have taken the name of God-in-Three-Persons in Christian baptism but have no discernible intention of living coram Deo.

Our culture seems to share a second likeness to Cainite culture too. Like Cain and his descendants, we endorse marriage and family, but we redefine them apart from godly virtues. Look again at Gen 4:19-24. Cainites believed in marriage and family alright, but in just seven generations from Adam, they had exchanged monogamy for polygamy, and husbands like Lamech sang of their ability to intimidate their wives. Similarly, in our culture: secularists redefine “marriage” and “family,” celebrating what God condemns. Meanwhile, professing Christians take marriage vows but live together oblivious to biblical teaching on marriage.

Our culture looks to be Cainite in a third way. Like Cain and his descendants, we seek community, safety, and beauty apart from God’s altar. Notice Gen 4:17, 20-24. Cainites produced food and clothing, tools and weapons, musicians and instruments. They had milk and meat, but no milk or meat of the Word. They had clothes, but not the white robe of Christ’s righteousness. They made tools to build tents and weapons to wage war, but they had no tent of meeting with God, no spiritual armor. They had livestock, but no Lamb of God. They sang along with Lamech’s taunt and doubtless even silly love songs (cf. Gen 6:2; Matt 24:38), but not the songs of ascent or the Song of Songs. So, where did the Cainites find all this community, safety, and beauty? Excommunicated from God’s presence (Gen 4:16), they had to find these benefits away from His altar, apart from His Spirit and His Word. Too many in our society and our churches seem bent on seeking and finding community, safety, and beauty away from God’s altar too.

A fourth likeness between our culture and Cainite culture is observable. Like Cain and his descendants, we demand justice, but we lack the fear of God. Look again at Gen 4:23-24 and its cultural legacy in Gen 6:5-12. Cain’s descendant Lamech mocked God’s justice, bragging of a better justice that lacked the restraint of God’s lex talionis (Gen 4:24). Increasingly, like Lamech, our culture defies God and deifies man. And the taunting spirit of Lamech that lives on in our society brings it neither justice (Gen 4:23) nor peace (Gen 6:5, 11).

As a culture, we demand justice, but with no fear of God in our hearts. We claim to be “people of faith,” but we don’t live our lives coram Deo. We endorse marriage and family but redefine them on our own terms, not God’s. We seek community, safety, and beauty, but find them apart from God’s altar. And what are the results of our likeness to Cain and his descendants? Paraphrasing the words of cultural commentator and theologian David Wells, our society has rapidly lost moral altitude. We’re not merely morally disengaged, adrift, and alienated; we’re morally obliterated. We’re not only morally illiterate; we’ve become morally vacant. The onset of this spiritual rot has come so rapidly that many would say that we’re in a moral free fall. Since we’ve abandoned the pursuit of virtue, we’re left to talk about values, but our values have no universal value because the idea of absolute truth has disappeared from public discourse. We’re looking now at a society, a culture, even a civilization that, to a significant extent, is travelling blind, stripped of any moral compass. Some would even say that we’re all Cainites now. Is there any way of escape? Yes! Face the brutal facts. Don’t be like Cain. Be like Abel, Seth, and their descendants, who called on the name of the LORD (Gen 4:26). Just as they did, confess our rebellion, individual and corporate, against Him (cf. Jude 1:14; Heb 11:7). Just as they did, subject ourselves in faith to Him and His Christ, acknowledging that His wrath is quickly ignited against us rebels, but that all who take refuge in Him are blessed (Ps 2:12).

What Makes the Great Commission So Great: The Assistance Christ Gives

Posted by R. Fowler White

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

According to Matthew 28, the third of the truths that makes the Great Commission so great is the assistance Christ gives, the presence He provides. Look again at 28:20b, And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew tells us that Christ the King, as He executes His office and pursues His agenda, is God with us. He is our Immanuel. He is the ever-present help of His followers. Our King is also our Priest.

Knowing Christ as Immanuel is evidently vital to the fulfillment of the Great Commission. In Matthew 24-25 Jesus had taught that the spread of the gospel to the nations will bring the spread of tribulation and persecution to the nations. From His first coming to His second coming, there will be intensifying pressure on His church to apostatize as “the days of Noah” and “the days of Lot” return to the earth. Tribulation and persecution will bear the fruit of apostasy and betrayal. False prophecy will multiply in deception. Lawlessness will increase. Culture will suffer corruption. All of these developments are enough to instill fear in those to whom Christ has entrusted the fulfillment of the Great Commission. But He tells us, “Don’t be afraid. I am with you always, to the end of the age.

These words remind us of God’s words to Joshua before the conquest of the nations in the Promised Land. You remember the story. Moses was now dead. It was understandable that Joshua and the people would tremble, be afraid, be dismayed. But what were the Lord’s words to Joshua? Arise, go over this Jordan … No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. … Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (Josh 1:2, 5, 9). Notice what the Lord does here. As He commands Joshua and the nation to obey His commission to take possession of the Promised Land, He recognizes that they may tremble, be afraid, be dismayed. But they are to recognize that He who had given them His commission is He who makes them a promise: He promises them His presence and His assistance to fulfill His commission. They could recall how, at the end of his life, a dying Moses had communicated this same commission to go into the land of foreign nations, to bring those nations under dominion of their God, and to observe all the commandments in the Law, with the promise of His presence and assistance. Even so, as we reflect on the end of His earthly ministry, we find that the living and resurrected Jesus, the one who is greater than Moses and Joshua, gave His commission to His apostles and His church to go into all the earth to bring all nations under His lordship, and to teach them to observe all His commandments, with the promise of His presence.

Jesus, the new Joshua, who commands our obedience to His Great Commission is at the same time the ever-gracious God who provides us His presence and assistance to fulfill it. He is the Commander of the hosts of heaven who defends us and restrains all of His and our enemies. He is the Shepherd and Guardian of our souls who preserves and supports us under all our temptations and sufferings. And at the end of this age He is the Judge who will deal with those who refuse to yield to Him and to obey His gospel.

What is it that makes the Great Commission so great? Not only the authority Christ exercises and the agenda Christ has set, but also the assistance Christ gives us. As we spread the gospel to the nations and tribulation and persecution spread with it, the Lord Jesus who has given us His commission has promised us His presence and His assistance to fulfill His commission. Echoing the gist of God’s words to Joshua and Israel, He says to us, Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Heaven’s Message to All Us Rebels (Ps 2:4-12)

Posted by R. Fowler White

It’s crucial that we in the church see our lives, history, and culture in terms of the conflict between the heavenly city of God and the earthly cities of man. When we turn to Psalm 2, that’s the way, in sum, that David views the world. His lyrics tell us of heaven’s message to all us rebels on earth. In words of warning and pardon in Ps 2:4-12, we’re told to realize what God’s response is to our rebellion and what our duty is to Him.

David gets right to the point in the second stanza of Psalm 2 (2:4-6): God the Father has responded to our revolt with scorn and ridicule, and He has taken measures to counter our rebellion. As Father of the King, He has put His Son, Christ Jesus, on the heavenly throne in heavenly Jerusalem on heavenly Mt Zion. From heaven Christ the Son now reigns as King of kings and Ruler of the nations, and He is commanding rebels everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come. We—especially those of us in pulpits and pews—need to recover the too-long-ignored truth of God the Father’s response to our rebellion: He declares, “There is a King. He is King of kings. His name is Jesus. His capital city is heavenly Jerusalem, and everyone must do whatever is right in His eyes.” Note to self: wise up and realize how the Father of the Anointed King has responded to your insurgency.

Not only that: wise up and realize how the Father’s Son Himself, the Anointed King, has responded to your rebellion. David gives us the headline in stanza 3 (Ps 2:7-9). The Son tells us in 2:7 about the proclamation that His Father published about Him. It reads, Today I have begotten You. The Father looks on His resurrected Son Jesus and declares: “By resurrection, I have made You ‘the Firstborn from the Dead.’” And there’s more. In 2:8-9 the ascended Son tells us about the promises made to Him by His Father. Those promises include victory over His enemies, the nations as His inheritance, the ends of the earth as His possession. As others have said, there is not one inch of this world on which His Royal Highness Jesus doesn’t look out and declare, “Mine!” The present days of salvation and grace will give way to the day of judgment and justice, and then all of us rebels will give an account to God’s Anointed King. Until He comes again, we do well to remember: “the Lord neither negotiates with rebels, nor adjusts himself to suit their demands, but simply reaffirms his royal plan: His king is installed and that is the end of the matter.”[i] Another note to self: wise up and realize how Jesus, the Anointed King Himself, has responded to your rebellion.

One more thing, and it’s big too: wise up and do your duty to God and His King as described in stanza 4 (Ps 2:10-12). His demands are simple and direct. To us, to our fellow citizens, and to our government officials in all branches at all levels, He says, “Wise up! Stop your foolishness! Show discernment! Take all necessary precautions! Open the Bible and believe the gospel of Christ; obey the commandments of Christ. Worship the LORD, the God of heaven and earth. Rejoice with trembling. Pay homage to the Son. Repent of your rebellion. Find refuge in God’s Anointed King, Jesus. To the ruling class and the ruled classes, Christ Jesus, the Son of the Father, is both just and merciful. He is just in that He rewards and punishes according to His law. He is merciful in that He pardons all who forsake their sins and take refuge in Him alone. Heed these words of warning and pardon!”

The faithless want to live life not on God’s terms, but on their own terms, in pursuit of rights, privileges, and “cancel culture.” It’s crucial that we in the church see our lives, history, and culture in terms of the conflict between heaven and earth. So, are you in the ruled classes? Are you in the ruling class? David reminds every one of us: on the authority of God’s written word, heed His warnings of wrath, embrace His promises of pardon. Wise up, repent, and take refuge in God’s Anointed King, Jesus, the Lord!

[i] D. A. Carson et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 489.

Hey, Horde of Reckless Fools: Wise Up! (Ps 2:1-3)

Posted by R. Fowler White

Until recently we liked to believe that a majority (silent or outspoken) in Western culture still lived off the capital they borrowed from the historic Christian faith (or at least from the Judeo-Christian tradition). But that belief is now all but demolished. Most of the faithless want to live life on their own terms, not on terms borrowed from natural revelation, much less from special revelation. The social influencers among us have us thinking that they’re just promoting rights and privileges, when they’re actually remaking our world, step by step, as a pagan earthly knockoff of the heavenly city of God (bereft of common grace, of course). With an agenda so shameless, it’s crucial that we in the church see our lives, history, and culture in full awareness of the conflict between heaven and earth. And that is just what we find when we turn to Psalm 2. Here David sings of the faithless in conflict with our God and His Christ. And in the lyrics of his song, David tells us of heaven’s agenda that we all, faithful and faithless, need to heed: words of warning and pardon, simple and direct. David starts off in Ps 2:1-3 with a warning to us: wise up and confess our rebellion against God and His Christ.

David is flabbergasted and incensed at our rebellion against the government of the God of the Bible and His Anointed King. He says we’re in a rage, an uproar, staging a revolt. And this uprising, David would have us know, is all in vain. Rejecting what God reveals of His moral will in nature, in conscience, in His law, and in Scripture as a whole is simply reckless. Rejecting the gospel of Christ and His commandments is just foolish. It’s either God’s government or man’s government. Choose life with God—or die.

When we reject God’s government or see others doing the same, what are we to think? Are we human beings not obligated to honor what God calls good and to reject what He calls evil? Is God’s gospel of forgiveness and justification good? Is His law of love good? Or are they “hate speech”? “A dog whistle for bigots”? Do we recognize all this for what it is? Friends, David would have us understand that when members of a society don’t share the moral vision of God and His King, that society is a mob of insurgents against divine government. That insurgency appears not just in others, in our fellow citizens, or in our government officials, but in us, in our families, in our pulpits and pews. We’re all by nature rebels against the Lord and against His Christ. So we all should bear in mind this truth from the first stanza of Psalm 2: if we throw off the government of God and His Anointed King, we’re just a horde of reckless fools whose revolt is sure to fail. Isn’t it time you and I, along with our fellow citizens, wise up and repent of our rebellion against God and His Christ?

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